I love badass superhero movies as much as the next person, but Watchmen was not meant to be just another glossy leather-and-chrome comicbook adaptation. The depth and breadth of its storytelling puts Watchmen in a completely different league from even The Dark Knight, awesome as TDK was. Watchmen remains the only graphic novel to win a Hugo Award and it’s the only graphic novel to appear on Time Magazine’s list of 100 best novels of the 20th century. It’s the crown jewel of the medium for a reason.
Watchmen is about a team of aging superheroes who are past their prime and who are struggling in different ways with the fact that their glory days are behind them. Most of them are retired, but some continue to work behind the scenes as powerful forces who influence the political economy of a world on the brink of nuclear war. The story is not a simple showdown between hero and villain. In fact, it’s a deconstruction of the conventional superhero archetype. It’s an exceedingly complex tale that expertly weaves together dozens of individual plotlines and explores themes like the nature of authority and social power, fascism, free will and determinism, absolutism, consequentialism and moral relativism.
How a two-hour film is going to give justice to this sprawling epic is beyond me. Alan Moore said it himself, “With a comic, you can take as much time as you want in absorbing that background detail, noticing little things that we might have planted there. You can also flip back a few pages relatively easily to see where a certain image connects with a line of dialogue from a few pages ago. But in a film, by the nature of the medium, you’re being dragged through it at 24 frames per second.” (EW)
I can appreciate the great visual styling of the Watchmen movie, but it looks and feels nothing like the comic. I understand that certain comicbook elements don’t translate well on film (e.g. real people would look ridiculous in costumes that looked exactly the way they did in the comics), but that’s just one of many reasons why some comics should stay comics. The Golden Age look and feel of the Watchmen comic is, for me, not just an aesthetic but integral to its storytelling. The very contemporary packaging of the movie has made me wonder (and fear) what else they’ve streamlined/updated/modernized. I’m bracing myself for a V for Vendetta-type butchering. (To make V for Vendetta more “relevant” to the current political climate, it was turned into a political satire about neo-conservatism, when the original story was really about fascism and anarchy.)
I’m not a purist who complains that adaptations of my fandoms aren’t “canon.” I can appreciate creative decisions to alter certain aspects of a work, provided they’re well done and respectful of the original material. But if you’re going to produce an adaptation that only resembles the original in the way that tic-tac-toe resembles chess, you should just go and write your own damn story.